La Liga champion, two-time Champions League winner, two-time European Champion and World Cup Winner. Only a handful of players carry all of these honors: Carlos Puyol, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Iker Casillas and Xabi Alonso.
They were all apart of Spain’s golden era, which only recently met its demise. Iniesta and Xavi were the pioneers of tiki-taka, pass-them-to-death football; regarded as the next best players in the world behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Iker Casillas was their anchor and now has more caps for Spain than anyone in the country’s history. Carlos Puyol was their leader, a fearless gladiator and ruthless defender on the pitch.
These are players so good, and so influential to a team that their clubs dare not get rid of them. Puyol spent his entire career with Barcelona and Iniesta and Xavi look set to do the same. While Casillas, though he is rumored to be leaving in January, has only ever donned the Real Madrid shirt.
Then there is Xabi Alonso. The defensive midfielder, who despite all of his accomplishments and ability was just sold by Real Madrid for a fee of around just 8 million pounds. He is perhaps, the most under-appreciated player in the game.
In the two league games following his departure, Madrid failed to gain a single point. Alonso, however, received the man of the match award in his first two games with his new club, Bayern Munich.
This is not the first time a former team of Alonso’s has faltered following his departure. In 2009, he left Liverpool after 5 years, where he helped the English club win both the Champions League and League Cup. It’s no coincidence that Liverpool also qualified for the Champions League every year during his tenure. Though, in the season following his departure, Liverpool finished 7th in the Premier League. It took them another four seasons to get back into Europe’s top club competition.
There are few players in the world who do what Alonso does. He is equally as capable of providing a game saving tackle, as he is a game-winning pass. He is the vital link between the defense and attackers. His positional awareness is immense and his ability to hit both the short and long pass allows him to quietly control the tempo of the game. Just ask his new boss, Pep Guardiola.
“He [Alonso] gives us our tempo – something that only midfielders of his quality can do,” Said Guardiola after Bayern’s win over Manchester City last Tuesday, “there’s not much I can teach Xabi.”
Liverpool failed to see the importance of Alonso, and their failure to adequately replace him proved a hindrance in the following years. Now, thats not to say that Real will befall the same fate, considering both the high caliber of their attack and the lack of depth in La Liga. . However, Alonso’s absence has already been felt (most notable in the Madrid derby) and may make the difference of a few trophies come June.